It less than 24 hours, the 2014-15 NBA Playoffs, one of the most anticipated in many years will begin and there is no shortage of storylines. The No. 1 Seeds in the East and West are trying to complete their historic seasons with a title. The defending NBA champions are trying to replicate what there in state rivals accomplished 20 years ago. The newest NBA sensation makes his playoff debut. There will be April basketball in New York. A four-time MVP is trying to win his city’s first pro sports title in over five decades and one of the best lead guards in the game is trying to get himself and his team to a place where they have never been. Here is the 2014-15 NBA Playoff preview.
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets
-Season series: Hawks won 4-0
It has been a long time since the ATL’s basketball team has been in the conversation as a team that can win it all.
Thanks to a franchise record 60-win season, winning their first division crown since 1993-94 capturing the Central Division, where their head coach Mike Budenholzer is in the running for coach of the year and that they had four All-Stars this season in Kyle Korver (12.1 ppg, 48.7 FG%, 49.2 3-Pt.%), Jeff Teague (15.9 ppg, 7.0 apg, 1.7 spg) Paul Millsap (16.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Al Horford (15.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and a team-first philosophy as they became the first team since the 2004-05 then Charlotte Bobcats to not have a player score 30 points or more in any game this season. That Bobcats team though won just 18 games.
The Hawks hope to make their eighth consecutive appearance in the postseason a good one as it begins against the Brooklyn Nets, who they defeated all four times this season.
The Hawks, who finished 7-8 down the stretch of this season have some concerns entering the playoffs.
For starters they will be without their best perimeter defender in swingman Thabo Sefolosha as he and his teammate forward Pero Antic were arrested in New York last week during a crazy incident in a night spot which left Sefolosha with a leg injury that will keep him out of the playoffs.
That will put more pressure on the likes of DeMarre Carroll (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 39.5 3-Pt.%) and Kent Bazemore and to keep contain the Nets’ starting guards Joe Johnson (14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 35.9 3-Pt.%) and Deron Williams (13.0 ppg, 6.6 apg).
Speaking of the Nets, the only reason that they are even in the playoffs to begin with is that the Indiana Pacers fell on Wednesday night at the Memphis Grizzlies 95-83 to give the Nets the last playoff spot. They went just 6-4 in their remaining 10 games.
If the Nets have any chance of pulling the upset, they need starting center Brook Lopez (17.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg) to be great. Prior to the All-Star break, Lopez was averaging just 15.7 points and 6.2 boards as the Nets were 17-25. Since then Lopez has averaged 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds on 52.5 percent shooting and the Nets went 17-13. Lopez outplays Horford, the Nets can make this a series.
The Nets also needs the aforementioned starting backcourt of Williams and Johnson to play to their All-Star potential. If they shot 43.5 percent and 38.7 percent respectably from the floor like they did during the regular season, the Nets will go home very quickly.
Another key in this series who amongst the supporting cast for each team will rise to the forefront. Will it be Thaddeus Young (13.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Jarrett Jack (12.0 ppg, 4.7 apg); Bogan Bogdanovic (9.0 ppg, 35.5 3-Pt.%), Mason Plumlee (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Alan Anderson (7.4 ppg, 34.8 3-Pt.%) for the Nets or will it be Carroll (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg,39.5 3-Pt.%), Dennis Schroder (10.0 ppg, 4.1 apg), Mike Scott (7.8 ppg) and Antic (5.7 ppg).
Last season the Hawks were the No. 8 Seed and took the Pacers to the limit before falling in seven games. Now being on the opposite side, they will follow the formula of a collective effort and making the extra pass to lead them past this round and beyond.
-Prediction: Hawks in five.
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards
-Season series: Raptors won 3-0
Historically, the No. 4 Seed versus the No. 5 Seed in the postseason matches up two teams regardless of conference as two teams that are evenly matched.
This matchup features two teams that made stellar seasons for the first time in a while and made the playoffs.
They both came into this season with expectations and both early on met them combining for a 46-15 record through Dec. 29, 2014.
Both teams went south after that as the Raptors and Wizards went 25-26 and 24-28 respectably since that date.
Both teams lost their starting two guards as All-Star DeMar DeRozan (20.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg) of the Raptors and Bradley Beal (15.3 ppg, 40.9 3-Pt.%) for 22 and 19 games respectably because of injuries.
The starting frontcourts for both of these teams in Marcin Gortat (12.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Nene (11.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Paul Pierce (11.9 ppg, 44.7 fg%, 38.9 3-Pt.%) of the Wizards and Amir Johnson (9.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Jonas Valanciunas (12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Terrence Ross (9.8 ppg, 37.2 3-Pt.%) have been inconsistent and that is being kind.
The one player in this series that will be a major factor in dictating the outcome is Wizards floor general John Wall (17.6 ppg-lead team, 10.0 apg-2nd NBA, 1.7 spg-leads team), who lead all guards with 40 double-doubles.
The Raptors lead guard Kyle Lowry will have the task of slowing down the Wizards’ two-time All-Star, but the Raptors will need Lowry (17.8 ppg, 7.8 apg) to get back to the form that made him the starting lead guard at the All-Star Game back in February.
Before the All-Star break, Lowry was rolling averaging 18.6 points, 7.2 assists and the Raptors were 36-17. After the midseason classic, he has averaged just 15.2 points and 5.4 assists and the team has gone just 7-10. On top of all of that, he was dealing with a back issue along with other nagging injuries that forced him to miss time.
One big X-Factor that the Raptors have in their favor is Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams, the team’s third leading scorer at 15.5 points per game.
He along with back-up guard Greivis Vasquez (9.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 37.9 3-Pt.%), Patrick Patterson (8.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg 37.1 3-Pt.%), James Johnson (7.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Tyler Hansbrough bring a grit, spark and attitude off the pine that might be a too much for the Wizards reserves of Kris Humphries (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Ramon Sessions (7.4 ppg), Otto Porter, Jr. (6.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Drew Gooden to handle.
On top of that, the Raptors are an outstanding three-point shooting team, topping their franchise mark from last season with 713 connections from distance with 726. The Raptors were 24-7 this season when they made at least 10 three-pointers and they are the only team this season to have five players in Williams (152), Ross (145), Vasquez (133), Lowry (132) and Patterson with (104) with 100 trifectas made or more.
This series features two teams that record wise had one their best seasons in many years. The Raptors going another season without winning 50 games, won their second straight Atlantic Division title and won a franchise record 49 games. They are trying to win their first playoff series since 2001 when Vince Carter lead the team to a first round win over the New York Knicks 3-2. They lost in the Semifinals to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers and league MVP Allen Iverson in seven games.
The 46 wins by the Wizards are the most since the 1978-79 season, where they won 54 games, where they made it all the way to the NBA Finals and fell to the then Seattle Supersonics in five games.
This season has just left many expecting more from these two teams and the loser of this series faces some likely changes this summer. It is likely that Wizards’ head coach Randy Wittman or Raptors head coach Dwane Casey could be gone if their team cannot advance.
-Prediction: Raptors in seven games.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics
-Season series: Tied 2-2
When Akron’s favorite son and four-time MVP LeBron James (25.3 ppg-3rd NBA, 6.0 rpg, 7.4 apg) returned to the Cavaliers and they acquired Kevin Love this past summer, the Cavaliers and first-year head coach David Blatt went from a team rebuilding to one that was expected to contend for a title.
The honeymoon ended in the blink of an eye as the team was 19-20 when the New Year rolled around. On top of that, the team’s physical force in the paint Anderson Varejao sustained a season-ending injury early and the frontcourt became very thin.
When the team acquired Timofey Mozgov (10.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) from the Denver Nuggets and J.R. Smith (12.7 ppg39.0 3-Pt.%) and Iman Shumpert (7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg) from the New York Knicks back in January, the Cavs took off going 34-9 to close the season.
Prior the acquisition of Mosgov, the Cavs were just 19-17 with +0.9 point differential; shooting just 34.5 percent from three-point range; averaging 41.1 rebounds per game and just 12.0 second chance points. With Mozgov starting in the middle, the Cavs went 34-12 with a +7.3 point differential; shooting 38.0 percent from the three-point arc; averaging 44.5 rebounds per contest and 13.3 second chance points.
Along with James, the Cavs are going to go as far as the play of Love (16.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 36.7 3-Pt.%) and Kyrie Irving (21.7 ppg, 46.8 FG%, 41.5 3-Pt.%).
While they are playoff infants, they are expected alongside James to rise to the moment and deliver. Love has to play to the level where teams have to game plan for him. At times this season he has been confused about his role as just a three-point shooter. It is up to him and coach Blatt to make sure Love is involved at the offensive end, especially in the paint.
The Cavs opposition, the Celtics have proven this season you can be in rebuilding mode and win basketball games.
Since Feb, 2 only the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors and the aforementioned Cavs have won more games than the Celtics who have gone 24-12 in that stretch.
When this team traded their two best players Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies respectably earlier this season, many thought the Celtics chances of making the playoffs were just a dream.
Sixth Man of the Year candidate in guard Isaiah Thomas, who the Celtics acquired from the Suns and has averaged 19.0 points per game made it a reality.
Since the trade of Jeff Green, the Celtics have gone 27-19, averaging 100.4 points, 23.9 assists per contest and 17.3 points off of turnovers.
Defensively since Feb. 2, they have limited 14 teams to 94 points or less and they have proven they can stand tall when the game is close as they have won 11 games by six points or less, which consists of four wins at the buzzer.
This nucleus of Thomas, Avery Bradley (13.9 ppg, 35.2 3-Pt.%), Brandon Bass (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Jared Sullinger (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Kelly Olynyk (10.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 34.9 3-Pt.%), Tyler Zeller (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Evan Turner (9.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.5 apg), Jae Crowder, rookie Marcus Smart (7.8 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Jonas Jerebko (7.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 40.6 3-Pt.%) are showing under second-year head coach Brad Stevens that the future is bright in “Bean Town.”
With that being said, this series is all about the Cavs. They have the star power. The fire power and all the motivation in the world to deliver the first professional sports title to the city Cleveland in a little over five decades.
-Prediction: Cavs in four.
(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks
-Season series: Bulls won 3-1
When this season began, many had the Chicago Bulls, not the Cavs as the team to beat in the East and maybe even the whole league.
The return of Derrick Rose from injury. The addition of Pau Gasol to a front line that consisted of last year’s Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah (7.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.5 apg), Taj Gibson and rookies Nikola Mirotic (10.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Doug McDermott. They also added Aaron Brooks in the backcourt to go alongside swingman Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler.
The season went like the past three have for the Bulls. The likes of Rose, Butler, Gibson, Dunleavy and McDermott combined to miss 164 games because of injury.
The big one was Rose, who had missed just about the last two seasons because of serious knee injuries, which stems from the 2012 playoff opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The difference this season from the last two under head coach Tom Thibodeau is having Gasol (18.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg-4th NBA, 1.9 bpg-led team) who had a league leading 54 double-doubles this season; the career season of Butler (20.0 ppg-led team, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 spg-led team, 46.2 FG%, 37.8 3-Pt.%) and the strong play of Brooks (11.6 ppg, 38.7 3-Pt.%), who averaged 15.5 and 12.4 points in the months of March and April respectably and Mirotic, who averaged 20.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in March.
If not for the historic seasons by the Warriors and Hawks, Bucks’ first-year head coach and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd would be hands down coach of the year.
Last year, the Bucks were 15-67 and allowed 103.7 points per game. This season, the finished at .500 and while they scored an average of just 97.8 points per contest, they allowed just 97.4.
They started the season 30-23, doubling their win total from a season ago. They unfortunately lost forward Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in this past summer’s draft to a torn ACL he sustained back on Dec. 15, 2014 at the Phoenix Suns.
At the trade deadline, the Bucks traded then starting lead guard and borderline All-Star Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in three-team trade and acquired from the Sixers guard Michael Carter-Williams (14.1 ppg 5.6 apg, 2.0 spg). The team also acquired forward/center Miles Plumlee and guard Tyler Ennis.
While the team went 11-18 after the trade, they did show flashes of what the future can be, especially in their only win against the Bulls this season.
In the Bucks 95-91 win versus their Central Division rivals, Carter-Williams had 21 points and 10 rebounds on 9 for 14 shooting.
The Bucks defense in that contest held the Bulls to just 41.9 percent shooting, had 11 steals and forced 18 turnovers, which they converted into 15 points. The Bucks also out-rebounded the Bulls 48-40, including 20-12 on the offensive glass.
Like the Celtics, the Bucks future is very solid with Parker, Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokounmpo (12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Ersan Ilyasova (11.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg 47.2 FG%, 38.9 3-Pt.%), O.J. Mayo (11.4 ppg 35.7 3-Pt.%), Khris Middleton (13.4 ppg, 46.7 FG%, 40.7 3-Pt.%), who is a free agent at season’s end, ZaZa Pachulia (8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and John Henson (7.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.0 bpg-led team).
With that being said, the Bulls are one a mission to finally get to The Finals. This is the best team Rose has had around him in his career and it is now or never for the Bulls to get over the hump and win a title.
-Prediction: Bulls in four.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
-Season series: Warriors won 3-1
When the Warriors went on a franchise record 16-game winning streak from Nov. 13, 2014 to Dec. 14, 2014, the question was are they under rookie head coach and five-time champion Steve Kerr the real deal. They answered with a high pitched shout it to the roof top yes!
They became the 10th team in NBA history to win 67 games in a regular season. They won their first Pacific Division title in 39 seasons. They won a franchise record 39 games out of 41 tries at Oracle Arena and a franchise record 28 games on the road.
All-Star guard Stephen Curry (23.8 ppg-leads team 7.7 apg-leads team 2.0 spg-4th NBA), who made an NBA record 286 three-pointers in the regular season is the likely MVP. Draymond Green (11.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg-leads team, 3.7 apg, 1.6 spg) is in the running for Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson (21.7 ppg, 46.3 FG%, 43.9 3-Pt.%) has been out of this world. Marreese Speights (10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Harrison Barnes (10.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg 48.2 FG%, 40.5 3-Pt.%) are having career years. Starting center Andrew Bogut (6.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg) has been a solid presence in the paint and the bench of the aforementioned Speights, David Lee (7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa have been magnificent.
They became the sixth team in NBA history to finish in the top three in offensive rating and defensive rating in the regular season.
The task now, win 16 more games and capture their first NBA title since 1975.
That journey begins against the New Orleans Pelicans, making their first playoff appearance since 2011.
They are led by the sensational former No. 1 overall pick and two-time All-Star Anthony Davis (24.4 ppg-4th NBA, 10.2 rpg-leads team, 2.9 bpg-leads NBA), who along with DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers are the only players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds this season.
The 22-year-old Davis was at his absolute best this past Wednesday night versus the defending champion Spurs with a game-high 31 points to go along with 13 rebounds and three blocks in leading the Pelicans to a 108-103 win to clinch the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the West. It was the second straight win by the Pelicans and their sixth in nine tries in the month of April.
A big reason why they are in the postseason and the Oklahoma City Thunder are not is despite having the same identical records, the Pelicans won the season series over the Thunder 3-1 and Davis got them their third victory, a 116-113 thriller in Oklahoma City with a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer on Feb. 6.
While Davis may be the headline of this series, if the Pelicans are going to compete against the favored Warriors, they will need the supporting cast of Tyreke Evans (16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 5.3 rpg), Eric Gordon (13.4 ppg, 44.8 3-Pt.%), Ryan Anderson (13.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 34.0 3-Pt.%), Jrue Holiday (14.8 ppg, 6.9 apg, 1.6 spg-leads team), Quincy Pondexter (9.0 ppg, 43.3 3-Pt.%), Omer Asik (7.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Norris Cole (9.9 ppg, 37.8 3-Pt.%) to play well.
-Prediction: Warriors in five.
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
-Season series: Grizzlies won 4-0.
The playoffs are very often a war of attrition.
The matchup between the Northwest Division champion Trail Blazers and the Grizzlies represents two literally and figuratively limping into the postseason.
The Grizzlies, who will have home court advantage virtue of having a better record have two key members of their team hobbled entering the playoffs.
Starting guard Mike Conley (15.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 44.6 FG%) has missed the final four games of the regular season because of a sprained right foot and defensive perimeter ace Tony Allen has been down the last nine games because of pulled left hamstring. All-Star starting center Marc Gasol (17.4 ppg-leads teams, 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.6 bpg-leads team) with a left ankle sprain earlier in the week, but showed up and was great to the tune of a career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds in the Grizzlies 95-83 win versus the Pacers this past Wednesday night.
The Trail Blazers have been dealing with injury issues of their own over the past few months.
Back-up center Chris Kaman (8.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) has been dealing with pain in his lower back. Starting small forward Nicholas Batum (9.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.8 apg) bruised his right knee on Monday in the Trail Blazers 101-91 at the Thunder, missing their season finale, a 114-98 loss at the Dallas Mavericks. Reserve guard C.J. McCollum (6.8 ppg, 39.6 3-Pt.%) has been dealing with a sprained left ankle. Guard Arron Afflalo (10.6 ppg, 40.0 3-Pt.%) strained his right shoulder back on Apr. 9 at the Warriors and has missed the last four games. Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews was lost for the rest of the season back on Mar. 5 versus the Mavericks when he tore his left Achilles that required surgery and backup forward Dorell Wright is on the mend because of fractured right hand. Even All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been on the mend with a sore foot and he has been playing for much of this season with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
To put what the Trail Blazers are going through in perspective, a season ago, head coach Terry Stotts had to use only two different starting lineups. This season, he had to patch together 20 different starting quintets.
In looking at the optics of this series we have the Trail Blazers built around offense led by Aldridge (23.4 ppg-leads team, 10.2 rpg) and Damian Lillard (21.0 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.5 rpg) and eighth best three-point shooting team in terms of percentage at 36.2; sixth in makes from distance at 9.8 and third in attempts at 27.2. They are ninth in the league in scoring at 102.8 points per contest.
Along with Aldridge and Lillard, the Trail Blazers will need more from the remaining healthy bodies in starting center Robin Lopez (9.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Meyers Leonard (5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 42.0 3-Pt.%), backup guard Steve Blake and center Joel Freeland.
The meat and potatoes of the Grizzlies is on the defensive end and scoring in the paint.
Only the Utah Jazz allowed the fewest points per contest than the Grizzlies at 95.1 per game. They were ranked 10th in opponent’s field goal percentage at 44.2. They were tied for sixth in steals per game at 8.5 and were tied for ninth in forced turnovers per game at 14.6.
On the offensive end, everything begins and ends with Gasol and Zach Randolph (16.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg-7th NBA, 48.7 FG%).
One big weakness the Grizzlies have is their ability to strike a match from the perimeter. For them to win this series and beyond, Vince Carter, Jeff Green (13.1 ppg, 36.2 3-Pt.%), Courtney Lee (10.1 ppg, 44.8 FG%, 40.2 3-Pt.%) and Beno Udrih (7.7 ppg, 48.7 FG%) are going to have to make some jump shots to keep the Trail Blazers defense honest and not just sink down in the paint and be a bother to Gasol and Randolph.
The Grizzlies will also need to stay even on the glass as the Trail Blazers are 10th in the league in rebound differential at a +1.3, while they are 13th at a +0.2.
-Prediction: Grizzlies in six.
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
-Season series: Rockets won 3-1
Twenty years ago, the Houston Rockets led by Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler as the No. 6 Seed made a remarkable run to their second straight title. The hope is that history will repeat itself in the 2015 playoffs lead by MVP candidate James Harden and center Dwight Howard.
Harden (27.4 ppg-2nd NBA, 7.0 apg-leads team, 5.7 rpg 1.9 spg-T-5th NBA, 37.5 3-Pt.%), who lead the Rockets to the Southwest Division title, their first since winning the Midwest Division in 1993-94 had the best season of his career leading the league in points scored (2,717), free throws made (715) and attempted at (824). He was third in total steals at 154 and fourth in three-pointer made at 208. He also had 35 games of 30 points or more and the Rockets won 30 of those games.
Harden’s great season despite Howard (15.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg-leads team) missing close to six weeks because of pain and swelling in his right knee and starting forward Terrence Jones (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 35.1 3-Pt.%) missed 49 games because of nerve injury in his leg.
With starting lead guard Patrick Beverly (10.1 ppg, 35.6 3-Pt.%) and reserve forward/center Donatas Motiejunas (12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 36.8 3-Pt.%) out for the playoffs with wrist and back surgeries respectably, that means more responsibility to Harden, who shot just 37.6 percent and 39.1 percent in Rockets first round setbacks to the Trail Blazers and the Thunder the last two postseasons.
Can Howard return to the form that he was at in last season’s playoffs, where he averaged 26.0 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the six-game setback versus the Trail Blazers?The Rockets will also need Josh Smith (12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Jason Terry, Corey Brewer (11.9 ppg), Trevor Ariza (12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 spg, 35.0 3-Pt.%) and Pablo Prigioni to play well.
Last season, the Dallas Mavericks put a scare into the eventual champion Spurs in round one before they were sent home in Game 7.
The signing of Chandler Parsons (15.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 46.2 FG%, 38.0 3-Pt.%), who has been on the shelf the last six games because of right knee soreness away from the Rockets this summer and the acquisition of Rajon Rondo from the Celtics in December 2014 was supposed to put the Mavericks in the thick of things in the West.
Since being 19-7 before Rondo was acquired, the Mavs have gone 31-24 with him and have been out of rhythm more often than not on both ends. Without Beverly to be a major pest, Rondo should dominate versus Terry and Prigioni.
They need more than anything for Parsons, It is hard to fathom talking about the Mavericks and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki (17.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 45.9 FG%, 38.0 3-Pt.%) and Monta Ellis (18.9 ppg-leads team, 1.9 spg-leads team) are not at the head of the conversation.
If the Mavs plan on advancing though, those two will have to bring it. They will also need major contributions from center Tyson Chandler (10.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg-5th NBA), guards Devin Harris (8.8 ppg, 35.7 3-Pt.%), J.J. Barea (7.5 ppg) and Amar’e Stoudemire (10.8 ppg).
In the playoffs, it is the little things that can make a big difference in winning and losing. One small aspect that might tell the tale of this series is at the free throw line.
The Mavericks rank 16th in the league shooting at 75.2 percent, while the Rockets, who attempt the second most in the league at 26.0 per game, but are 27th in percentage at 71.5 percent. The reason that is an issue is that Howard and Smith shoot 52.8 and 49.8 percent respectably from the charity stripe and there have been times this season that teams have gone to fouling them to put them at the line to slow the moment of the Rockets down and get back into the game. The Mavs have a bad foul shooter as well in Rondo, who shoots 41.7 percent.
This series has it all. To teams from the same state. Parsons trying to stick it to his former team. An All-Star in Harden trying to prove he can be the guy to lead his team to the promise land. Nowitzki trying to make one more championship run with a prior champion in Rondo by his side. Two of the best offenses in the game.
-Prediction: Rockets in six.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
-Season series: Tied 2-2
NBA on TNT analyst Kenny Smith said something about the NBA that has stuck with me for a long time. He said something of the fact that the regular season you make your name. In the playoffs, you make your fame.
One team in this series has made their name in the regular season and their fame in the postseason and the other has made their name in the regular season, but has yet to make their fame in the playoffs.
The Spurs have made a great name for themselves in the regular season winning 50 games or more for 15 straight seasons. The trio of Tim Duncan (13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg-leads team, 2.0 bpg-leads team), Manu Ginobili (10.5 ppg, 4.2 apg, 34.5 3-Pt.%) and Tony Parker (14.4 ppg 4.9 apg, 48.6 FG%) have lead the Spurs to four of their five NBA titles and head coach Gregg Popovich has been on the sidelines for all five of the Spurs triumphs.
The future Hall of Fame trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili has won 117 postseason games, the most all-time in NBA history.
This season has been different in a lot of ways. One way is that the team has had to deal with a lot of injuries to key players like Parker and Ginobili as well as center Tiago Splitter (8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Patty Mills (6.9 ppg) and last season’s Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (16.5 ppg-leads team, 7.2 rpg, 2.3 spg-leads NBA).
When Leonard has been available for the Spurs they were 46-18. In the 18 games he missed because of a hand injury, they were just 9-9.
After having a losing record on their annual Texas Rodeo Trip, the Spurs won 23 of their final 27 games, which included an 11-game winning streak that ended at the aforementioned Pelicans this past Wednesday.
Their opponents in the opening round the Clippers are making their fourth straight postseason appearance, thanks to tying the second best record in team history and their third consecutive 50-plus win season.
Since the acquisition of lead guard Chris Paul (19.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg-leads NBA, 1.9 spg-5th NBA) the Clippers have not gotten passed the Semifinals in two tries. In Paul’s postseason career, he has played well individually with 29 double-doubles and averages of 20.6 points, 9.7 assists and 2.3 steals on 47.8 percent from the field, but he is just 22-31 in his career with the then New Orleans Hornets and the Clippers
In their last matchup with the Spurs in the Semis in 2012, they were swept 4-0, which also dropped Paul two 0-2 versus the Spurs in the postseason.
The teams split their four meetings in the regular season. In their last meeting on Feb. 19, the Clippers won 119-115 behind 20 points and 16 assists from Paul. The Clippers other All-Star forward Blake Griffin (21.9 ppg-leads team, 7.6 rpg, 8.5 apg) missed the game recovering from an infection in his elbow.
Since his return on Mar. 15 the Clippers have won 14 out of 16 games and look every bit like this postseason will be different. If the Clippers are going to advance, they need Griffin to be a dominant presence in the paint.
One other reason why this postseason might be different is the play of Defensive Player of the Year candidate DeAndre Jordan (11.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg-lead NBA, 2.2 bpg-4th NBA, 71.0 FG%-led NBA), who on 12 occasions this year had over 20 rebounds in a game and the Clippers were 8-4 in those contest.
In a matchup between to very solid teams that are at the top of their game entering the postseason, it comes down who can win the games within the game.
For instance, will Jordan be able to knock down free throws if the Spurs go to the hack-a-Jordan strategy. In the aforementioned matchup between these two teams back in February, Jordan attempted 28 free throws and made just 10. If the Clippers do not want this to happen, Jordan must shoot better than 39.7 percent, which he did from the charity stripe.
If the Clippers want to beat the defending champs, they cannot get rattled. They have to be able to play through tough calls by the officials.
Last but not least, the supporting cast of the Clippers not named J.J. Redick (16.4 ppg, 47.7 FG%, 43.7 3-Pt.%) and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford (15.8 ppg), who missed 17 games late in the season because of a calf injury must be a factor. The Clippers need big time contributions from the likes of Glen Davis, Spencer Hawes (5.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Matt Barnes (10.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 36.2 3-Pt.%), Austin Rivers (7.1 ppg) and Hedo Turkoglu.
A matchup like this on the best of terms happens in the Conference Finals. One of these teams will see their season end in disappointment.
-Prediction: Spurs in seven.
Information and statistics are courtesy of 4/16/15 6 p.m. NBATV’s “The Starters” NBA Playoff Preview with Trey Kerby, J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas and Leigh Ellis; 4/16/15 7 p.m. Eastern Conference Playoff Preview on NBATV with Matt Winer, Dennis Scott and Mike Fratello; 4/16/15 8 p.m. Western Conference Playoff Preview on NBATV with Vince Cellini, Steve Smith and Mike Fratello; www.nba.com/playoffs; www.espn.go.com/nba/teams/statistics; en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Clippers.